More on birth of environmental fund

Thanks to Tony Hall for his Viewpoint [“Mario Cuomo’s legacy” March/April 2015], citing Governor Mario Cuomo’s vital role in creating the Environmental Protection Fund. I appreciated Tony’s mention of Bob Bendick and myself as participants at the state Department of Environmental Conservation. I would like to elaborate a bit on events of that time.

In 1986, DEC created a committee of a few staff members to work on projects to be acquired with funds from a 1986 Environmental Quality Bond Act. I was assigned to coordinate the acquisition of Tahawus, then in the process of being sold by National Lead to NL Industries. (Negotiations ultimately fell through.) I also managed the acquisition of part of Sterling Forest. The 1986 bond act money ran out fast, and soon we had a big backlog of projects and were talking about another bond act. It went before the voters in 1990 for $1.9 billion— and failed by a heartbreaking half of one percent.

I prepared a report on what each of the forty-nine other states were doing to fund open-space preservation. Several had established permanent funds with dedicated revenue sources, and some of them used mortgage transfer taxes. New York settled on a real-estate transfer tax as a way to fund the Environmental Protection Fund.

Bob Bendick entered the scene in 1991 as deputy for natural resources, a hard worker with a lot of ideas. One of his contributions was to lead the development of the state’s first Open Space Conservation Plan in 1993. With nine regional advisory committees and a two-year updating cycle, this planning process has been very successful in generating priority projects and garnering support for their acquisition.

The real hero of that process, however, is Francis Sheehan, assistant director of lands and forests. He worked with Bob Bendick on the first plan and has led DEC’s team for every edition since then.

Charles C. Morrison, Saratoga Springs
Editor’s Note: Morrison is former director of Natural Resources Planning, Executive Division, for the DEC.

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